Consolidation among health insurers is creating near-monopolies in virtually all reaches of the U.S. - with the most dominant firms grabbing more market share by several percentage points a year - according to a study released Monday.
Data from the American Medical Association shows that in each of 43 states, a handful of top insurers have gained such a stronghold that their markets are considered "highly concentrated" under Department of Justice guidelines, often far exceeding the thresholds that trigger antitrust concerns.
The study also shows that in 166 of 294 metropolitan areas, or 56%, a single insurer controls more than half the business in health maintenance organization (HMO) and preferred provider networks (PPO) underwriting.
And on the other hand we have the totally unrelated phenomenon of this executive's record-breaking payday (WSJ):
Today, the 58-year-old Dr. [William] McGuire is chief executive officer of UnitedHealth Group Inc., one of the nation's largest health-care companies. He draws $8 million a year in salary plus bonus, enjoying perks such as personal use of the company jet. He also has amassed one of the largest stock-options fortunes of all time.
Unrealized gains on Dr. McGuire's options totaled $1.6 billion, according to UnitedHealth's proxy statement released this month. Even celebrated CEOs such as General Electric Co.'s Jack Welch or International Business Machines Corp.'s Louis Gerstner never were granted so much during their time at the top.
Dr. McGuire's story shows how an elite group of companies is getting rich from the nation's fraying health-care system. Many of them aren't discovering drugs or treating patients. They're middlemen who process the paperwork, fill the pill bottles and otherwise connect the pieces of a $2 trillion industry.
Patients! Bah! Let them eat deductibles!
The Marie Antoinettes of the American healthcare system need to have their heads checked. We should offer to help.